An adept saxophonist and educator, Javon Jackson is a gifted improviser with a warm tone and style that straddles aggressive, acoustic post-bop and funky soul-jazz. Born in Carthage, Missouri in 1965, Jackson grew up in Denver in a musical family, with a mother who played piano and a father who played trumpet. He first began playing alto saxophone around age ten and switched to the tenor sax in his teens. After high school, he attended both the University of Denver and the Berklee College of Music in Boston before dropping out to join drummer Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, with whom he toured and recorded from 1988 to 1990.
Since then, he has toured and/or recorded with a bevy of name artists including Freddie Hubbard, Charlie Haden, Cedar Walton, Ron Carter, Donald Byrd, Bobby Hutcherson, Stanley Turrentine, and many more. As a leader, he debuted in 1991 with the Criss Cross release Me and Mr. Jones, which featured drummer Elvin Jones, bassist Christian McBride, and pianist James Williams. On the heels of Me and Mr. Jones, he recorded his sophomore album, 1991's Burnin', with tenor saxophonist Billy Pierce, pianist Kirk Lightsey, bassist McBride, and drummer Louis Hayes. Jackson then signed with Blue Note and spent the next several years with the label, delivering such well-received albums as 1994's When the Time Is Right, 1996's Look Within, and 1999's Pleasant Valley. These albums found him exploring various aspects of the jazz tradition and collaborating with such luminaries as Kenny Garrett, Betty Carter, John Medeski, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, and others.
From there, he moved to Palmetto and further expanded his musical palette with investigations into funk, soul, and R&B on 2003's Easy Does It, which featured guest appearances by Fred Wesley, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Lenny White, and Mark Whitfield. He returned with the similarly inclined Have You Heard in 2005, followed by 2006's Now. Since leaving Palmetto, Jackson has continued to balance his love of standards-based acoustic jazz and more funky sounds, as evidenced by albums like 2007's Sugar Hill: Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, 2008's Once Upon a Melody, and 2012's Celebrating John Coltrane. Also in 2012, he paired with legendary jazz pianist and vocalist Les McCann for Lucky 13. In 2014, he delivered the live album Expression, recorded at New York's Smoke jazz and supper club. He then joined bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Drummond in the trio Three's Company for 2016's We'll Be Together Again.
Aside from performing and recording, Jackson is a devoted educator, having held teaching positions at Long Island University and the Conservatory of Music at the State University of New York at Purchase, where he also earned his master's degree. He also holds the position of professor and division director of the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. ~ Matt Collar